Sunday, June 8, 2003

CONCORD, N.H. — Episcopalians in New Hampshire, in a national first for the church, yesterday elected an openly homosexual man as their next bishop.

The selection of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, 56, over three other candidates for bishop came in voting by clergy and lay Episcopalians. It is subject to confirmation next month by the church’s national General Convention in Minneapolis.

Mr. Robinson told supporters to be gentle with those who disagreed with their decision to elect him.

“We will show the world how to be a Christian community,” he said. “I plan to be a good bishop, not a gay bishop.”

Bishops in the worldwide Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church, approved a resolution in 1998 calling homosexual sex “incompatible with Scripture.”

According to the Episcopal News Service, the only other bishop to publicly state that he was actively homosexual was Otis Charles, former bishop of Utah, who made the announcement in 1993 after retiring.

Mr. Robinson, who was married and has two grown children, lives with his partner, state employee Mark Andrew, in Weare. He is an assistant to retiring Bishop Douglas Theuner.

Friends said he remains on good terms with his ex-wife and two daughters, both of whom attended yesterday’s balloting.

On the second ballot, Mr. Robinson received 58 of 77 votes cast by clergy and 96 of 165 lay votes to become bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.

Mr. Robinson preaches at area churches and has been active in local causes such as Concord Outright, a support group that he established for teenagers.

The Rev. Hays Junkin, head of the committee that selected the four candidates, said he expects Mr. Robinson’s election to be contentious at the General Convention. If confirmed at the national convention, which represents the country’s 2.3 million Episcopalians, he would be installed next March.

Mr. Robinson twice ran unsuccessfully for bishop — in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, N.Y., in 1999 and in the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, N.J., in 1998.

He faced opposition in New Hampshire, though all the candidates and Bishop Theuner have expressed support for homosexuals in the church.

The Rev. David Jones, rector of St. Paul’s in Concord, N.H., where voting took place, said he was thrilled with Mr. Robinson’s selection even though he recognizes that the Bible denounces homosexuality.

“The spirit works through that man, so who am I to say God’s not supposed to do that?” Mr. Jones said.

Mr. Robinson’s election is expected to be even more controversial among Anglicans abroad.

Conservatives in the Church of England and elsewhere protested the appointment last month of an English bishop with liberal views on homosexuality, although the new bishop vowed to uphold existing church policy on the subject.

The Episcopal Church, the U.S. version of what is known in the rest of the world as the Anglican Church, is divided over homosexuality and same-sex “marriages.”

Mr. Robinson’s election came days after the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the world’s 70 million Anglicans, expressed dismay that a bishop in Canada had decided to authorize blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

Rowan Williams, head of the Church of England and one of the world’s most influential Christian leaders, said that move inevitably would cause friction in the church, Reuters news agency reported.

Bishop Michael Ingham, who leads the Anglican diocese of New Westminster, British Columbia, agreed to authorize clergy in some of his parishes to carry out the ceremonies for same-sex couples.

In a profile posted on the Diocese of New Hampshire Web site — — Mr. Robinson, who left his wife in 1986, described his divorce.

The two of them, he said, “returned to church, where our marriage had begun, and in the context of the Eucharist, released each other from our wedding vows, asked each other’s forgiveness, cried a lot, pledged ourselves to the joint raising of our children, and shared the body and blood of Christ.”

The prospect of a homosexual bishop in a senior position infuriates traditionalists, among them the archbishop of Nigeria, who broke communion with the Canadian diocese last weekend when the bishop allowed the homosexual “marriage” to be performed.

In Anglican parlance, “breaking communion” is a form of excommunication.

Calling the Canadian action a “flagrant disregard for the Anglican Communion and what the vast majority of it stands for,” the Most Rev. Peter Akinola, head of 17 million Anglicans under 81 bishops in 80 dioceses, severed relations May 30 with the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster.

In March, a theology committee for the House of Bishops for the Episcopal Church rejected same-sex rites after 18 months of study. In 1998, the world’s Anglican prelates voted that sex between homosexuals is “incompatible with Scripture” at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops in Canterbury, England.

A dissenting minority, however, has refused to abide by that resolution. Numerous U.S. Episcopal churches have allowed such rites, although none with the open approval of a bishop.

Staff writer Julia Duin contributed to this report.

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